This ask is late. Too late. Too late to undue harm. But hopefully in time to hit pause.
It is fairly common knowledge, in our tiny town of Buffalo, that Desmond, a member of our activist/ organizing community, committed sexual violence towards another in our activist/ organizer community.
These words are hard to write, to read, but not as hard as experiencing the acts. Hard to maneuver, to navigate, to move forward from. Hard for individuals and for communities to figure out what to do with. We’re failing. Failing real good and have been for a long time. We don’t know how to support victims or survivors* or how to hold the ones doing the harm accountable or how to undue the structures that enable assault and rape to happen. For forever. Always.
What we are really practiced in is shaming, isolating, shunning and demonizing. We are really practiced in denial, blaming the victim or survivor, accusing them of lying or exaggerating, offering support that is void of empathy, acting on behalf of the survivor or victim without their awareness or consent, and having no interest in getting really hella messy and figuring out what long-term interventions and solutions look like. Forever. Always.
I’m asking that we hit the pause button. That you grant us some patience as we try to figure all of this out. As we figure out what Emily needs in order to feel supported and safe. What she may need in order to move closer to healing, to wholeness, or something as close to it as possible if that’s what she wants. As we figure out what accountability and healing looks like within a transformative justice process.
Throwing someone away; putting someone in a cage and in a system, we know is dehumanizing; throwing them out of spaces, kicking them out of groups, of meetings, shows, events; pushing them to get fired, putting them in danger of homelessness, of harming themselves; shaming and demonizing them in front of people they respect; outing them on Facebook; isolating them so their only option is to move, are not solutions. We can do better. We should do better. We need to be doing better. It won’t be easy. It’s a lot easier to institutionalize or incarcerate them, to wave them away and put them in a box marked ‘not my problem’ until it gets dusty and you forget about it.
This is all of ours to sit with. Obviously, what has been happening nationally lately is proof of how prevalent this is, how embedded sexual assault and rape is/ are in our fabric.
Throwing someone away, ejecting them from groups and public spaces may keep us “safe” for that hour, maybe even longer; but let’s not kid ourselves into believing it is ridding our spaces, our communities, our society of harm. We move closer towards safety when we work on undoing rape culture.
We are all harmed by rape and sexual assault. We are all responsible for rape culture. And for undoing it. This ask is for patience. We are in the middle of a process that we (individuals, community, society) have less practice in; undoing and accounting for harm and moving towards restitution. A process that does not center vindication.
Transformative Justice is a process where all individuals are given an opportunity to address and repair the harm. The other stuff we’re really practiced in (incarceration, shame, isolation) does not repair harm, many times it does the opposite. Transformative Justice shifts power towards collective liberation, it shifts our response to violence to one(s) where we are supporting survivors, victims and Emily’s self- determination. And supporting individuals, like Des, to shift their harmful behaviors. It also asks that we all, community, do the work. I’ll say that again:
It asks that we ALL, this community, do the work.
It is work we must engage in if we want to support victims and survivors, give them what they need to feel held and safe and move towards community support and accountability. It is work we must engage in if we don’t want to hand our folx over to the state, if we’re serious in the belief that people don’t belong in cages, and most importantly, if we want to dismantle the social fabric that holds and enables harm to keep happening, again and again and again.
Community, let’s be patient and do our part in preventing [further] harm and let’s figure this shit out together.
*words survivor and victim are used even though some people experiencing harm may not identify with either of these terms.
In the hopes of a world we want to live in.